PictureA Charlie Brown Christmas is brought to Blu-ray by Warner Home Video with a 1080p resolution encoded with the VC-1 codec and framed within its original 1.37:1 aspect ration. The disc itself is region free.
There is a lot to wax lyrical about with this visual presentation, but it must all be counterbalanced against the individual's expectations. Put simply, this is the best A Charlie Brown's Christmas has looked, but this praise won't magically turn it into a Pixar production. The animation is still sketchy and the improved delineation only serves to heighten the variable movement in lines. Schulz though seems to have favoured this less precise approach to animation and fans will point to this being a major source of the sheer character of his cartoons. As such, the crisp and clear lines are a wonderful addition that lets us fully appreciate the animation with all its arguable flaws.
Colours have a less haphazard depiction, being fairly strong where necessary, with primaries obviously pushed to the fore, but never overpoweringly so as Charlie Brown cartoons maintained a rather more child like crayon aura as opposed to that of the more brash marker pen-like colours of many similar productions. The key is that there is little sign of bleed or instability in these shades, though as with the thin outlines there is a certain amount of wiggle room afforded the creators. The most likely to catch the attention is the slightly inconsistent nature of flesh tones, but once again, this has more to do with the artistic style than any fault that can be levelled at the Blu-ray in particular.
Unfortunately there is still some evidence of print damage, with the occasional specks showing up, but at least it is not the point where it noticeably detracts from the viewing experience. With a production of this age and considering its origins, it deserves a certain amount of slack in many ways and although this isn't absolutely perfect, it is without doubt the best it has ever looked and, barring an extremely long and expensively extensive restoration, is likely the best we are to see in the near future.
SoundA Charlie Brown Christmas has but one audio option, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
Well it seems all those hoping for a lossless mix will be sorely disappointed as 640kbps is all we're getting. Much like the leeway that was afforded the image though, the audio comes from similarly humble roots, with this 5.1 track being engineered from the original monaural offering. As such there is little in the way of true separation and things feel as constrained as one would expect. There is a reasonable feeling of space to the front soundstage, but this is very much only when viewed in the context of its origins.
Dialogue is clear but can seem a touch underpowered. I wouldn't say it was muffled, just that a crank of the old volume knob wouldn't do you any harm in this instance. You're not going to find yourself suddenly knocked out of your seat because of the adjustment as there are no sudden rises in volume. The LFE gives the music a gentle nudge, but it's a pity that the higher frequencies of Vince Guaraldi's score aren't handled a little better as they lack any truly sharp definition against the rest of the mix.
There are a few nods towards ambience with the surrounds, such as music and a few other noises being lightly drip fed through them, but other than this there is no real push for an enveloping experience. Overall it is clear enough to be considered perfunctory but there is certainly more head room for improvement in this department than there is for the image.
ExtrasIt's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown - 1080p - 23:00
This Christmas television special from 1992 only really serves to highlight just how good the original was. The addition of stories for Peppermint Patty, Marcie and Sally detract from any consistent sense of pathos that Charlie Brown may have regarding his yuletide experiences once again. Something just doesn't quite click here, and the gentle infusion of an essentially Christian tone present in the 1965 original is replaced by a slightly more up front approach which sees Linus (without his blanket) reading from the Bible. It is certainly nice to see that this has received the same high definition treatment as the main feature, but somehow the enchanting spell that A Charlie Brown Christmas has over many is broken here. A few choice lines about Albert Schweitzer, Laurence Olivier and signed photos of King Solomon ultimately fail to raise this from being far more of a child's Christmas special in comparison to its predecessor's universal appeal.
A Christmas Miracle: The making of A Charlie Brown Christmas - 480p - 15:59
This featurette charts the making of A Charlie Brown Christmas from its very genesis as a hastily proposed special for Coca Cola, right through the production and finally to the network and audience reaction to the finished article. It is by no means the most in depth “making of” you'll see, but it is nice to witness the enthusiasm that those involved still have for their creation. The talking head clips are interspersed with some delightfully nostalgic vintage photos of Schulz. It may not break any new ground or give us any startling revelations, but it covers all the salient points of the production and does so with an air of genuine warmth.
Trailers - 720p - 1:19
A short advert for another animation box-set of “10 holiday classics”.
A DVD version of the Blu-ray, though take note that this is locked to region 1.
A digital copy of the film that can be transferred to your PC, though it is only compatible with Windows Media and the offer expires October 6th 2011.
VerdictIt is very hard to unconditionally recommend A Charlie Brown Christmas, even if I do find it a yuletide classic myself. It lacks the run time to be seen as a quintessential festive film and this disc attempts to remedy that by giving us the 1992 Christmas special as well - a move which only serves to remind us how well crafted the original was. The feature though is still worthy of your attention, and if you can look past the sketchy animation and learn to see the tremendous character in the approach of placing atmosphere and script above perfect visuals, you'll find this to be eminently rewarding.
The disc has just about the best image presentation that we could have hoped for, with decent colour stability, good delineation and a surprising amount of dimensionality to it. The audio may not be quite as polished but for a 1965 monaural mix that has been stretched to 5.1 it is more than acceptable, particularly when you consider how few sounds there are to utilise with which to create atmosphere. Perhaps Guaraldi's score deserves more attention to bring it out in full but at least there are no glaring distractions that mar the experience. The extras are either thin or healthy depending on whether you consider the second Christmas special as a bonus or rather part of a double bill feature presentation.
Overall, if you're a fan of great animation or Charlie Brown I'm sure you may have already picked this up. For the rest this may simply fall into the category of a temptation budget buy.
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